Colorado 1, FC Dallas 1: How Stats Zone saw MLS' top-two deadlock
A goal at the close of the first half had the Colorado Rapids in position to pull even on points with FC Dallas in the Western Conference and Supporters' Shield races, but the Victor Ulloa came off the bench to score a wonderful goal as the Hoops, missing two pivotal attacking players in their sixth game in 20 days, rallied for a 1-1 draw in suburban Denver.
Ulloa's 27-yard bending shot to the upper-right corner in the 82nd minute, the ninth goal Dallas has scored in the final 15 minutes of action this season, accompanied a late surge that nearly led to a go-ahead strike moments later, but for Tim Howard's leg save on Michael Barrios. Marlon Hairston took advantage of Atiba Harris' lapse in judgment to send Colorado ahead in the 44th.
The game's start was delayed by about 45 minutes for lightning.
Dallas (12-4-7) remains three points ahead of the Rapids (10-2-8), who extended their league-best unbeaten streak to 15 games and home unbeaten stretch to 11 and have three games in hand on the Hoops. The LA Galaxy, winners Saturday afternoon at Portland, is just another three points behind.
Some key storylines from Saturday's clash at Dick Sporting Goods Park:
Thank God for Timmy
As good as Zac MacMath was the first half of the season, Tim Howard has brought a different confidence to Colorado's league-best defense. He makes the big plays look commonplace while handling everything he ought to, as would be expected of a goalkeeper with his pedigree. His knack for holding onto balls other netminders would spill or parry -- we saw a few of these Saturday -- adds up to plenty over time.
Howard was at his best Saturday, and he had to be. Colorado gave away too many balls out of the back, suicidal against a side that attacks as quickly as Dallas, and battled the Hoops' counterattack most of the night. Howard tipped a Barrios blast over the crossbar just 10 minutes in, snagged a difficult Barrios cross after about a half-hour, batted away a solid Walker Zimmerman header off a corner kick just after Hairston's goal, held onto Harris' rising blast from the top of the box with a half-hour to go, and made a foot save to deny Barrios the go-ahead goal in the 83rd.
Dallas didn't have a lot of possession and didn't really need much, waiting patiently for opportunities to counter and then sprinting forward. Barrios caused a lot of havoc on occasion, and Mauro Diaz was at the heart of many of the Hoops' best chances. Tesho Akindele, stationed up top with Maximiliano Urruti sidelined by a concussion, created an outstanding chance for himself, cutting inside on Michael Azira atop the 18 before firing a shot that ricocheted off Jared Watts and past the far post.
There was nothing Howard could do about Ulloa's goal except admire it. His defense could have better. The chance came off another quick attack, with Ryan Hollingsworth pushing a ball up the left wing for Barrios, who cut in atop the box and took a shot that was blocked by Eric Miller. It rolled out to Ulloa, who had ample time to settle and set up his try, and that split the points.
Marlon Hairston, again
Hairston came off Colorado’s bench last week to deliver a victory over Sporting Kansas City. This week he got the start ahead of Marco Pappa and got on the end of some of the Rapids' best chances. He got into the box four times, and the one he put away was something of a gift.
Colorado, again without ailing midfielder Jermaine Jones, began the game with an urgent attack and found success, as it were -- the Rapids put just two shots on frame all night -- primarily through route one. Kevin Doyle nearly provided a lead in the 21st after Shkelzen Gashi nodded down a ball Azira pumped into the box, and Hairston burst into the box from Dillon Powers service for a shot Zimmerman deflected wide a dozen minutes later.
The goal arrived from a booming Axel Sjoberg ball that cleared Hairston high on the left flank, but a basic error by Harris -- he had time and options after running the ball down, then inexplicably turned inside to clear it -- allowed Hairston to strip it, race into the box, and take the ball wide of goalkeeper Chris Seitz before rolling it into the open net.
Fabian Castillo, Dallas' most dynamic attacker, didn't make the trip to Denver amid reports that his time with the Hoops is coming to a close. The club is reportedly negotiating a transfer deal, worth $3 to $4 million, with Turkish club Trabzonspor, but there's also talk that Dallas wants to renegotiate the 25-year-old Colombian’s deal in a bid to keep him in Texas. Either way, he wasn't around, and his team lacked its usual electricity much of the evening.
Castillo's departure, should it happen, would be a big deal for the Hoops but likely wouldn't cripple them. He's their primary game-changer, with a touch of genius to go with great speed and superb touch, and he's been in fine form lately, at times approaching what we saw in last year's marvelous campaign.
Barrios, who has similar dynamism but lacks Castillo's pace and trickery, would take on more responsibility for stretching defenses, finding space behind the back four, and engineering chances. Diaz already is at the center of Dallas' attack, which likely would take on more of his personality.
The likeliest choice to step into Castillo's spot is Hollingsworth, who did so Saturday. He's more of a battler than is Castillo, which might be a plus down the stretch and into the playoffs. More could be asked of 35-year-old Mauro Rosales, or from Colombian midfielder Carlos Lizarazo, who has played in just seven league games but is a regular in the 18.
Scott French is a reporter for FourFourTwo. Follow him on Twitter @ScottJFrench.